Monday, October 28, 2013

final harvest and some chicken pics

In some ways, my garden this year was a pretty big disappointment. I planted so many beets over the season but I've really only gotten a few pounds. The ones I planted in July keep getting eaten by something. The early ones were stunted by my idiocy (i.e. compacted soil). We didn't get many carrots considering how many seeds we sowed. And our pumpkins and squash plants were nearly killed.

But there were some successes. The best was the celeriac. Well, not the celeriac I tried starting way back in March. Those poor, stunted things have only survived and haven't produced so much as a hint of a bump. But the celeriac starts I bought did very well. Tonight I rushed to harvest the last 10, and the final tally is 18 roots for a total of 22.75 pounds, including the greens; I feed the leaves to the chickens and freeze the stalks for flavouring stocks. Celeriac seems pretty disease and pest resistant. While everything else wilted under the onslaught of powdery mildew and squash bugs, the celeriac kept going through it all. I think it was their kind of season: cool and wet. Even though we had lots of slugs, they never appeared to suffer at all.

By the numbers, zucchini was the real success, which I harvested at least 27 pounds of (I'm pretty sure I forgot to weigh and record a few too). I planted two plants of the variety Costata Romanesco, at the recommendation of Carol Deppe. When I bought the seeds last January, I thought I would try my hand at dehydrating foods, including squash slices like Ms. Deppe, but life went in other directions. My main desire for the zucchinis were to eat them grilled, which I discovered last year. But the first zucchinis I cut off the plant tasted absolutely terrible grilled. I still don't know why: if it's soil (truth be told, none of our vegetables taste as good as local farmer-grown vegetables) or the variety or what. But after that I stuck to grating them for baking, freezing them for future baking, and using them in chutney. Even so, I'm ashamed to say I couldn't keep up. At least a couple of them rotted before I could get to them. The plants did pretty well, especially compared to the delicata squash and sugar pumpkin plants. I did see a few squash bugs hanging about the zucchini and thought they'd be goners, but they didn't seem to struggle too much.

I'm still declaring the pumpkins a success. We only harvested four out of the seven fruits that formed (one withered and two got eaten by pests so I fed the remnants to the chickens) but that made for nearly 12 pounds of food. I will definitely try squash and pumpkin again, but I'll give them more room.

Some volunteer potatoes sprung up and we got 7.5 pounds of potatoes from them - just tonight we found two more big Norlands when we dug up the celeriac. Let it be known: volunteer foods are welcome to turn up in my garden any time and I will let them live until I can eat them at the first opportunity.

My husband spent most of today insulating our chicken coop and buying a heat lamp in preparation for tonight's forecasted -5C. We had a chicken mentor assess our coop the other day, and it needs some work to keep the birds warm. We're not really ready for -30C nights, but we'll chip away at it and hopefully have a long while before we need to be ready for it. We turned the light on tonight but they were all still awake at 9 o'clock, so I think it weirded them out. We turned it off, hoping they would be able to relax and the new insulation would keep them warm overnight.


We still have a lot to learn. But they are really lovely to have around. I love having creatures who eat our vegetable scraps with gusto and will eventually turn it into eggs and compost. And they're lively and adorable and sing some pleasing songs. Tonight a bunch of them gave themselves dust baths for the first time (that we'd seen anyways), which was fascinating. But the best is when they jump up to get the wee berries from our burning bush (at least I think that's what it is). A couple of experienced chicken keepers I know were surprised to hear that chickens would do this, so maybe it's just ours, but they are adorable. It's my new mission to try to photograph them jumping for berries, but with the days getting shorter and me at work for most of the daylight hours, I don't know if it will happen. In the meantime, I offer some of these.


Now that I've seen what fun they have when we let them loose in our backyard, I am struck by what cruelty it must be to contain hens four to a cage for their entire lives. I'm so glad we're having this chance to get to know the pleasures of chicken keeping beyond fresh eggs.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanksgiving goings-on

Canadian Thanksgiving is coming to a close. We spent a couple of days at my parents' farm, where we had a most delicious turkey dinner, mostly made by me.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that I bring a local, pastured turkey instead of my mom buying the usual Butterball. And then, of course, I had to learn how to cook it, because pastured birds are a breed apart for cooking, apparently. And then I had to manage the timing of everything. My mom made a few things and my husband made one, but the rest was mostly me.

I brined the turkey at sunrise. My parents' covered porch is a beautiful thing.thanksgiving-8807
Mostly I was worried that it wasn't anywhere near thawed, and I figured the brining would help a lot with that. I added sage and garlic and peppercorns to the brine and it smelled delicious right away.

Then it only took a little over two hours to cook the 15-pound monster. Apparently pastured turkey cooks much faster than stuffed, all grain-fed birds. My husband told me privately that he thinks it might have been the best turkey he's ever had. It was so moist! It wasn't perfect -- the legs weren't quite done when the breast was, so we carved off the breast and put the rest back in, where it got dried out. But it will be fine in soup.

Before we went to my parents' we went to the garden plot to pull a celeriac for coleslaw and to see how everything was doing. And we discovered the most wonderful wee surprise: that stalwart Delicata squash plant that somehow managed to grow three tiny squash after being nearly destroyed by squash bugs had actually managed to grow FOUR squash. One was hiding under the zucchini plant.
I've got it curing in the kitchen window now.

Before we left and after we came home, we put the finishing touches on the chicken coop and the birds arrived tonight. I plan to write a whole post about the coop and the decisions we made, but in the meantime, here is the view from my living room window:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

on discipline

I think there's a common assumption, around school and other things in life, that sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to. The implication vis a vis children and especially education is that kids need to learn to do things they don't want to do by being forced to do things they don't want to do.

I confess I've been prone to this anxiety from time to time, especially since we started homeschooling. But I don't think the belief is factual at all. Discipline comes from love. It comes from connecting with the larger goal or need more than the short-term inconvenience or unpleasantness. I learned discipline from loving horses. Getting up early to feed them and turn them out before school, returning home early to muck their stalls, feed them and bring them in... well it wasn't always fun when I was a teenager. But I connected with the larger goal of wanting to ride one horse and compete and improve with one horse, and that required shovelling shit and getting up early and sometimes opting out of fun things to take care of this dependent creature.

I never make my bed. I'm sure some would label that behaviour a lack of discipline. But I think it's a matter of the pleasure of getting into a made bed at night (and I do find this a pleasure on days when I wash the sheets) is not enough to make me take the extra time in the morning or any other time of day. A few nights ago, at midnight, I proclaimed myself a rock star. Not because I was doing anything remotely musical but because I did the dishes when I really didn't feel like it. My husband asked, "Do you ever FEEL like doing the dishes?" And I do. In fact, most of the times I do the dishes because I feel like doing them. Not because I take pleasure in the act, but because I connect to the larger goal of having visual space to breathe (and actual space to prepare food) on the kitchen counters.

André Stern, a grown unschooler and French musician, takes it one step further. He says: "Learning takes place because of the interest we have for things; self-discipline arises from the pleasure one has from doing these things. We believe, wrongly, that discipline is a framework imposed from the outside, that it requires a system that forces the child to do something, to practice. However, the natural discipline comes from the child, from within. It grows out of pleasure and curiosity."

Speaking of discipline, we are still plugging away on the chicken coop. It's feeling pretty heavy and slow, but my dad came today and gave us a bit of a kick start to finish. We aren't finished yet, but the gate to the run is built (thanks, Dad!) and the fencing has begun. Soon, I will get a feeder and waterer, and set up a place to store bedding and feed... Soon, I think we may actually have hens cooing around in our backyard. Soon, when we want an egg, we may just be able to walk to the backyard.